Why the British office is ripe for a creative revolution

When stuck in a humdrum routine, our work environments can become black holes for productive and creative thought. This is a fact British office-workers know all too well, it would seem.

When it comes to providing an inspirational working environment, our offices are the worst in the world, according to Gensler's 2016 UK workplace survey. It said that two-thirds of us believe our work spaces crush our creativity and innovation. Our offices, by design, are outdated, oppressive and disruptive. And employees have little freedom to make change.

Google might have helter-skelters, Amazon might have treehouses, but for most businesses, budgets are a little tighter when it comes to creating workspaces where teams can collaborate and creativity can thrive. 

But that doesn't mean it's not possible. We've got more than a few ideas about how you can turn an ordinary office into somewhere that extraordinary things happen. 

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Make a virtue of open-plan

The open-plan office was designed in the 1950s to foster creative collaboration and a sense of community. But it also brought disadvantages that its architects didn't foresee: Open-plan offices are noisy and disruptive environments that, too often, leave workers craving quiet solitude. 

But, while the open-plan layout may have proven its pitfalls, the idea that inspired it is more relevant today than ever. More and more organisations understand the value of allowing their people to work and think together, and the importance of our environment in helping us achieve it. For most of us, a total renovatoon isn’t an option. But there are other, simple ways to build opportunities for teamwork and creative thinking into the fabric of your organisation. 

At Tesco, the service design team felt that, despite their open-plan office, ideas weren't able to flow from department to department. Kate Kapp, senior service design manager, who arranged for 50 of her colleagues to attend one of our Hardworking Picture Workshops explained how a little bit of visual communication can go a long way in making an open-plan office work exactly as it was originally intended. 

‘In a big organisation like Tesco, we need to communicate effectively to a workforce of thousands. People have different words for things, different priorities, different responsibilities entirely. So being able to sketch out the things that matter, gives us a common language.

'We're already seeing a difference,' says Kate. 'It's helping us achieve a culture shift towards sharing our ideas early and often. Sticking a quick sketch on the wall is a really powerful conversation starter. It makes sharing ideas so much easier, within your own team and with colleagues from other departments.'

Be there or be square

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In the age of technology, it’s no longer necessary to go to work to do your work. Remote workers are occupying an increasing proportion of the workforce and, a recent report from US software giant, Citrix, predicts that by 2020 half of the workforce will be clocking on and off, remotely.

And is it any wonder? British offices are, according to a recent poll, the ugliest and coldest offices in the world, with some 13 per cent of British workers believing it to be so. And while, aesthetic preferences might seem trivial, the chronic boredom and misery that a dull office cultivates can be highly detrimental to productivity and job satisfaction. And this study even found a correlation between unattractive workspaces and severe mood disorders.

But the point is, even if you work in a 70s concrete slab tower block, with grey, stained carpets and an uninterrupted view over the M6, your office can be a place people want to be. And, slowly perhaps, but surely, business are understanding that the onus is on them to create it. (The upward trend in ping-pong table sales figures, might have you deduce that some are getting a little desperate). 

Perks are nice, but what people really want is a working environment that validates what they do, and what they're trying to achieve. Ping-pong's a start (full disclosure, we have a table here at Scriberia HQ), but we'd advise you don't stop there when it comes to finding ways to make your office genuinely rock. 

Take JLT Specialty's Business Development Team as an example. They commissioned us to create a bespoke mural for their office wall that captured their mission and inspired them to fulfil it. 

The 15-foot piece, designed and drawn by celebrated Scriberian, illustrator, Matthieu, depicts the entire team working together as one. Not only did it give them a really strong sense of identity and belonging, but it also serves as a pretty spectacular piece of office enhancement. 

Change it up

As Thomas Jefferson once said 'If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done.' And that true of everyone's working practice. Staring at the same computer screen, at the same desk in the same office, is not - logic would tell us - conducive to original thought. Sometimes it pays to do things differently.

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One thing we've noticed from holding workshops in our studio is how relaaaaaaaaaxed everyone seems to feel when they walk through our door. They might arrive with a huge and seemingly insurmountable problem to crack, they might have spent months in gridlocked negotiations with their colleagues over it, but putting themselves in a brand new physical space feels, immediately, like a huge step towards a solution. 

For others though, a change of location is less important than a change of approach. For Bennetts Associates Architects, for instance, a workshop reminding their team how to give form to their ideas - without the aid of computers - yielded fantastic and, in some cases, truly fantastical results. 

So, if your office isn't yet home to a relaxation area, a music room or a full-scale basketball court, you may have to think small to find your big ideas. If you always work on a computer, grab a pen and paper; if you always write your ideas, try drawing them; if you're sick of facing the same old problems within those same four walls, it's time to seek a fresh perspective.